Four Wins From the Past Month

Friday, April 19, 2024

A Friday Hodgepodge

Whenever possible, I list three wins at the end of each day. Here are a few from a recent review of my planner.


1. As our family waited in the terminal ahead of an hours-long couple of flights from the West Coast to home, my son cast an uncomfortable and concerned glance at his parents.

"I feel nauseous," he said a little weakly.

Grabbing a bag from the lunch Mrs. Van Horn had just brought over, I thrust it into his hands. "Keep this with you in case you can't make it to a bathroom in time," I said.

His older sister complained that she didn't want to sit next to him on the plane.

"April Fool's," my son replied.

He got all of us good by catching us completely off-guard and with an impeccable delivery.

Well-played, my son!

2. Although I sometimes do wish my son were more interested in sports or outdoor activities, I don't share the moral panic many other parents do about his screen time -- which strikes me as a mashup of the reading, television, and gaming I did as a lad.

Yes, reading, in the sense that he learns things and often follows up.

Having learned about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, he mentioned it to us as probably a good family movie, so that's what we did one Sunday evening.

I hadn't read the book or seen the movie, so it was new to me, and I enjoyed it more than I had expected to.

From the corner of my eye, I spotted these turtles while crossing a pedestrian bridge last week. (Image by the author. Feel free to copy/reuse.)
3. After the move from Florida, I still miss the wide variety of birds along with the occasional alligator I'd see when when I took walks there.

That said, the more compact town we live in means that my walks can have other advantages, like including stops at coffee shops, in addition to being more scenic overall.

As it turns out, my walks are not devoid of wildlife. The ponds and waterways here teem with turtles, as you can see from this picture I took from a pedestrian bridge.

Oh, and I run into the odd crow now and then. If I start encountering those with any regularity, I might try my hand at befriending them.

4. Ahead of a trip last month, I looked ahead in my tickler file for the days I would be away and discovered something I had slipped into a Friday folder to file away during my weekly review: My car registration receipt.

I'd tried getting my car inspected earlier in the week, but was told I'd need my registration receipt and was turned away.

Since Florida doesn't require inspections, I was five or six years out of practice: Thinking I'd probably not need that scrap of paper, I had stashed it in the tickler file and forgotten about it.

Indeed, at the inspection station, I thought I might need to go back to the DMV and ask for the document, which would mean another hour or two of wasted time.

Finding this was a big relief, because I knew I could very quickly get the inspection done now, and not have to waste time or risk getting a ticket.

Chalk one up for having a (usually boring) clerical routine in place.

-- CAV

Also, Don't Be a Dragon!

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Jerry Liu offers the following advice, which fellow role-playing gamers will find easy to translate into real-life terms and quite memorable: Use your potions and scrolls.

He opens with a familiar scenario:

I find that when I play RPG games, I often hoard single-use items like potions and scrolls, saving them for some future critical moment. I finish games like Skyrim with a backpack full of unspent resources, reserved for a crisis that never actually arrives. What's the point, then, of all these items?
The answer to his last question arrives from an experiment that it's probably fair to say went better than he expected:
Recently I played Baldur's Gate 3 and I decided to try something new: I would actually gasp use my items as needed, as they were intended, without undue reservation. Not only was it actually fun to use my fireball scrolls and blow stuff up, but I also discovered new layers and hidden quests. For instance, using a 'Speak with the Dead' scroll on a certain suspicious corpse unveiled a questline I would have otherwise missed.
Liu elaborates on his lesson, in the rest of his short, thought-provoking post. One insight worth remembering is that many things are actually not single-use -- although they can expire!

Liu's backpack full of unused potions and scrolls reminds me of a related insight I had over years: Having a lot of something can, under certain conditions, be the functional equivalent of not having it at all.

The germ of this one arose back in my card-playing undergraduate days, when I noticed that, depending on how one played long in a suit, one could opt to stay in a lead or basically sit out the rest of a hand. My huge supply of, say, diamonds, might mean noone could lead me into diamonds (or take them) because they were all in my hand.

That ring is in there somewhere, but good luck finding it! (Image by Arthur Rackham, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)
This isn't always helpful: Decades later, after a series of interstate moves that included young children in tow and no purging for several years, I remember looking for something in a garage full of disorganized stuff and unopened boxes.

I can't recall what I was looking for at the time, but even though I knew we had multiple instances of it, I had to buy another because everything was lost in the disorganized dragon's hoard that our garage housed instead of our cars.

Leading up to our last move, I attacked that hoard over a period of three months. We donated dozens of boxes of things to Goodwill, and lots of that stuff was brand new, or as good as new.

Until I did that, it was as if we didn't have a garage -- or most of the things that were being stored in it!

The clearing-out caused moving preparations to take longer than I would have liked, but I did not want to have the same situation on the other end. I wanted to enjoy this house!

That was time well-spent, but looking back to Liu's advice again, it is clear that, had I not had to deal with this mess, I could have used a big chunk of time for much more interesting things.

-- CAV

Biden vs. Gig Work Update

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Over at Reason, John Stossel notes that "The Labor Department just imposed 300 pages of new regulations to reclassify many individual contractors as payroll employees."

Great. I guess that's why our tax preparer had all sorts of questions about gig work for us this year.

Naturally, news media uncritically parrot the administration's alleged justifications for the changes, despite the fact that, as Stossel reminds us, this terrible idea has already been tried and failed in California:

Four years ago, unions got then-Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D -- San Diego) to push through a new law that reclassified gig workers.

They were told they'd get higher wages, overtime, and other benefits.

Clueless media liked that.

Vox called the law "a victory for workers everywhere."

Ha! A few months later, Vox media laid off hundreds of freelancers.

"They expected that all these companies were going to reclassify independent contractors as employees," freelance musician Ari Herstand told me. "In reality, they're just letting them go!"

Herstand was dismayed to learn that when he wants other musicians to join him, he could no longer just write them a check.

"I have to put that drummer on payroll, W2 him, get workers' comp insurance, unemployment insurance, payroll taxes!" he complains. "I have to hire a payroll company." [links omitted]
Stossel also notes correctly that (a) some professions managed to get exemptions in California, and (b) Biden wants to make that law nationwide and without exemptions.

Never mind that it was so unpopular that even Californians partially clawed it back at the ballot box.

It's too bad that the best we can hope for in the next election is divided government. The Democrats would ram this down our throats if left unchecked.

The cash value of Trump "owning the libs" through easily-overturned means is zero. Case in point: Keystone XL never got built. (Image by Office of the President of the United States, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)
And the Republicans? I seriously doubt that the current iteration of the Republican Party will do anything positive to protect gig work, much less roll back the regulatory state that makes moves like this possible: They'll be too busy infighting, or pursuing a theocratic and xenophobic agenda to worry about such unfashionable things as a free economy.

Maybe -- if he wins and he feels like it, and as he did for some things during his term -- Trump will roll back the new regulations, as if the Democrats will never come back into power again. Spoiler alert: When they do, a future Democrat can reintroduce these regulations or worse. (For an example from the world of Executive Orders, see also: The Keystone XL Pipeline.)

And that last, Trump supporters, is what is known as "owning" the libs without defeating them.

-- CAV

Left 'White'-Washes Anti-Semitism

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Some time back, I tweeted a Value for Value post by Peter Schwartz which explains how our culture's dominant ethical code, altruism, justifies supporting Hamas over Israel, despite the demands of justice to do exactly the opposite.

Schwartz says in part:

Certainly, a growing anti-Semitism is at work. But the more fundamental explanation is the one provided by a schoolteacher in Atlanta, as reported in the Nov. 5 NY Times ("Across the Echo Chamber, a Quiet Conversation About War and Race"). She posted the following message on Facebook, defending her unequivocal backing of the Palestinians against Israel:

"The actual history of this situation is NOT COMPLICATED. I will ALWAYS stand beside those with less power. Less wealth, less access and resources and choices. Regardless of the extreme acts of a few militants who were done watching their people slowly die."

She is stating the essence of a moral code that is accepted by virtually everyone today: the code of altruism. According to that code, need is the ultimate standard of morality. If others are in need, nothing else matters -- you have a duty to satisfy their needs.
Now that Iran, a nation nearly ten times more populous than Israel, has more directly waged war against Israel, it would be interesting to quiz the above schoolteacher about which side she is on.

I would not expect her allegiance to have shifted, despite the fact that Israel had enough help repelling that attack that it is a fair question whether it could have done so alone.

Absent the ability to ask directly, we can get the answer by consulting a recent Brendan O'Neill article article at Sp!ked. It is titled "How Woke Leftists Became Cheerleaders for Iran," and I think the below is crucial to understanding why we're seeing mass "demonstrations" by people claiming to be in favor of this warmongering regime's "right" to "self-defense:"
The left would say, Don't believe your lying eyes or mind about this evil man. (Image via Wikimedia Commons, license.)
The Western left's blaming of Israel for everything, and its implicit absolution of Iran, is grimly revealing. These people seem to view Israel as the only true actor in the Middle East, and everyone else as mere respondents to Israel's actions. Israel is the author of the Middle East's fate, while the rest of them -- Hamas, the Houthis, even Iran -- are mere bit-part players with the misfortune to be caught up in Israel's vast and terrifying web. This is identitarianism, not anti-imperialism. A new generation of radicals educated into the regressive ideology that says 'white' people are powerful and 'brown' people are oppressed can only understand the Middle East in these terms, too.

The end result is that they demonise Israel and infantilise Iran
. The Jewish State comes to be seen as uniquely malevolent while Iran is treated as a kind of wide-eyed child who cannot help but lash out at its 'Zionist' oppressor. Israel is damned as a criminal state, while Iran's crimes against humanity are downplayed, even memory-holed. This is where wokeness leads, then: to sympathy for one of the most backward and repressive states on Earth on the deranged basis that its criminal strikes against Israel represent a blow against the arrogant West itself... [bold added]
The whole idea that all of Israel is Caucasian or that the Islamic world is entirely brown-skinned is nearly as ridiculous as assuming that race determines character or as using white as code for oppressor and brown for needy or oppressed.

If anyone needs disabusing of the notion that the left stands for racial equality or individual rights, what we're seeing unfold -- the use of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories to excuse racially slurring Israelis as white (which is a racial slur coming from the left these days) en route to enabling their extermination -- should take care of that. This should also concern anyone with a grain of rationality or a sense of justice.

By casting the alleged neediness of Palestine and Iran -- and Israel's well-earned strength -- as racial attributes, the left has excused making the mindless siding with terrorists in the name of altruism permanent.

They're coming for the Jews now, and they will come for the rest of West as soon as is convenient. We're all "colonialists" now, according to the left, anyway.

-- CAV

Barbarians Escalate Against Israel

Monday, April 15, 2024

Over the weekend and from its own territory, Iran launched a barrage of hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel, using Israel's attack on its "embassy" in Syria as an excuse.

I recommend Yaron Brook's real-time reporting and commentary (embedded here). I was out running errands when I began listening. Any time I checked, I found him to be well ahead of other outlets both in terms of timeliness and quality of information.

The whole thing was barely a blip in mainstream media, and even sites like the Drudge Report were somewhat late.

At one point, Brook noted the issue with the most military significance at present: Iran doesn't have the nuclear capability it has been trying to develop.

This attack could have been far worse, and harder to deal with if that had not been the case. And after this weekend there is no doubt that this scenario must be averted, in the minimal form of the destruction of Iran's nuclear weapons facilities.

Ideally, the West also does whatever it can to topple the murderous, theocratic regime behind the attack and decades of terrorism and proxy conflicts. See also "End States That Sponsor Terrorism," by Leonard Peikoff.

As became apparent during the podcast, the need to end Iran's nuclear capability is a point many in Israel seem to grasp, as the following, quote of former Israeli PM Naftali Bennett, tweeted by Open Source Intel would indicate:
Some points regarding the overnight Iranian missile attack on Israel:
  1. Contrary to what pundits are saying, this wasn't designed merely as "bells and whistles" with no damage.

    When you shoot 350 flying objects timed to hit Israel at the same moment, when you use three fundamentally different weapon types -- cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and UAVs, you're looking to penetrate Israel's defenses and kill Israelis.
  2. The US administration is telling us: "This is a victory, you've already won by thwarting the missiles. No need for any further action." No, it's NOT a victory. Yes, it's a remarkable success of Israel's air defense systems, but it's not a victory.

    When a bully tries to hit you 350 times and only succeeds seven time, you've NOT won.

    You don't win wars just by intercepting your enemy's hits, nor do you deter it.

    Your enemy will just try harder with more and better weapons and methods next time. How DO you deter?

    By exacting a deeply painful price.
  3. It's incorrect to say "nobody got hurt". There's a 7 year-old Israeli-Arab girl called Amina Elhasuny fighting for her life. That's who coward Khamenei hit.
  4. The Islamic Republic of Iran made a big mistake. For the past 30 years it's been wreaking havoc on the region -- through its proxies.

    A terror-octopus whose head is Tehran, and its tentacles are in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Gaza.

    How convenient.

    The Mullahs send others to conduct horrendous terror attacks, and die for them.

    Other people's blood.

    Israel's strategic mistake for the past 30 years was to play along this strategy. We always fought the Octopus' arms, but hardly exacted a price from its Iranian head.

    This should change now:

    Hezbollah or Hamas shoots a rocket at Israel?

    Tehran pays a price.
  5. The enemy is the Iranian REGIME, not the wonderful Iranian people.

    The Iranian regime reminds me of the Soviet regime in 1985: corrupt to the core, old, incompetent, despised by its own people, and destined to collapse.

    The sooner the better.

    The West can accelerate the regime's inevitable collapse with a set of soft and clever actions, short of military force.

    Remember, USSR collapsed without any need for a direct American attack.

    Let's do this.
  6. Israel is fighting everybody's war. In Gaza, Lebanon and Tehran.

    We're considered "the small satan" by radical Islam. America is the big one.

    I'll be clear: if these crazy fanatic Islamic terrorists get away with murder by hiding among civilians, this method will be adopted by terrorists worldwide.

    We're not asking anyone to fight for us. We'll do the job. But we do expect our allies to have our back, especially when it's tough -- and now it's tough.

    Be on the right side and help us defeat these horrible and savage regimes.
That army of useful idiots -- the ninnies who are worrying about "escalation" -- are ignoring what happened on October 7 and over this weekend: Iran has already escalated unprovoked twice, and is going to escalate again, anyway. Its threats of doing worse if Israel retaliates are superflous and should be ignored, because these theocrats plan atrocities, genocide, and tyranny regardless of what we do.

This is war. We should fight it on our own terms.

This attack on Israel is a proxy attack on the West by dogs that smell fear. Let's snuff out these animals while they are still weak.

-- CAV

Blog Roundup

Friday, April 12, 2024

A Friday Hodgepodge

1. According to New ideal, the Ayn Rand Institute is promoting a booklet titled Finding Morality and Happiness Without God, and quotes author Onkar Ghate:

The basic reason religion remains such an esteemed aspect of American society is that it is considered important, even indispensable, to morality. The strongest form this idea takes is that morality depends on religion -- that without God, the distinction between good and evil loses meaning, and anything goes.
Mentioning happiness in the title should intrigue the more active-minded: Thanks to religion, most people associate fear and guilt with morality, and are reluctant if not afraid to think about this life-and-death topic.

We can blame the all-encompassing cultural stranglehold of religion for the fact that, while the true purpose of morality should be a huge sales advantage for Objectivism in the marketplace of ideas, it will cause suspicion for most.

I think the exeception I noted above will more than offset the current disadvantage, since those who will be intrigued will inlcude some future intellectuals.

2. At How to Be Profitable and Moral, Jaana Woiceshyn advocates the free market as the solution the medical care crisis caused by Canada's government-run system.

She outlines what this might look like in part:
The very small percentage of people who could not afford to pay for health care or insurance would depend on private charity, and the quality of care would be protected, not only through competition and rights-protecting laws, but by private third-party licensing/certification.

Healthcare professionals (doctors, nurses, and others) benefit from private health care because competition among providers would enable them to negotiate fair compensation and working conditions, which in turn would attract more professionals to health care and eliminate staff shortages and burnout.

The private healthcare providers (hospitals, clinics, professional practices) and medical insurance companies benefit by profiting from the quality and competitive pricing of their services.
It is worth noting why Woiceshyn goes into such detail: The lack of truly private systems worldwide makes "envisioning how such a system would work ... difficult."

3. At Thinking Directions, Jean Moroney addresses an interesting question that I'd put as What is the difference between a habit and an internal (psychological or mental) context?
Image by Ping Lee, via Unsplash, license.
Thanks to the influence of behaviorism, the term "habit" is commonly used to subsume a wide range of repeatable or regular behavior, regardless of the cause of such behavior. The problem with this is that different repeatable, regular behavior can have fundamentally different causes. Psychological concepts need to be defined in terms of fundamentals, i.e., by means of root causes, not superficial similarities.

For this reason, I limit the term "habit" to automatized perceptual motor skills, i.e., physical actions that happen automatically in response to awareness of a particular kind of environment, unless you intervene to stop them.
This is an important distinction: bad habits and unhelpful contexts make desirable self-directed action harder, but because they have different causes, combating or replacing them requires different approaches, which Moroney discusses throughout.

4. At Value for Value, Harry Binswanger considers the common claim that the United States is a "representative democracy."

The most interesting part of the piece to me was the following:
[Confusion on this issue is] because one needs to use the right method of concept formation. The right method allows one to validate one's concepts, rather than merely picking one term from those available.
Picking one term from those available is ubiquitous today, and explains lots of what is wrong with the current political discourse. And that means not just that practically everyone falls into it on at least some issues, but it can be easy for those who don't to forget or be unaware that that is what often happens. This can affect how best to argue for a good position.

The rest of the piece is highly instructive, both for its demonstration of the correct method of approaching the question and for its answer.

-- CAV

One Day, Two Disasters in Louisiana

Thursday, April 11, 2024

This morning, I read about two disasters, one natural and one man-made, that happened yesterday in Louisiana.

Debris lines show the extent of the flooding. The faint uppermost line is less than a foot below doorstep level. (Image by the author, copying permitted.)
The former took the form of a nasty storm that not only spawned a tornado that touched down northeast of New Orleans, but also dumped over half a foot of rain within a couple of hours.

Fortunately for us, our neighborhood got just the rain.

We have a very effective drainage system here, but we're on flat land and the rate of rainfall caused enough street flooding to stall out a car that had been driving through. Also, we found ourselves less than a foot away from having water in the house.

The water was gone two hours later, but I have been warned: I was concerned only about the possibility of wind and hail, and was paying attention for tornado warnings.

Flooding is a real possibility I've never really had to think about before, other than for insurance purposes. Now that I see how easily that can occur, I have to give flooding serious thought during hurricane season.

As my mother said after I sent some pictures and video around to the family: Welcome to Louisiana.

The other disaster -- man-made, much more dangerous in the long term, and slower-moving -- comes in the form of theocracy creeping closer at a faster pace in the red part of America these days. Louisiana has moved a step closer to mandating display of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms, in clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution:
Louisiana is one step closer to becoming the first state to require that public schools display the Ten Commandments in every classroom under a bill approved Wednesday by the state's House of Representatives.

Following a lengthy debate, lawmakers voted 82-19 in favor of House Bill 71. The bill's author, Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, said the legislation honors the country's religious origins.

"The Ten Commandments are the basis of all laws in Louisiana, and given all the junk our children are exposed to in classrooms today, it's imperative that we put the Ten Commandments back in a prominent position," she said.
Dodie Horton's name and degree of ignorance sound like an April Fool's joke -- or a minor villain in an Ayn Rand novel. But this is the eleventh and I was reading the news.

Setting those observations aside, even if we grant her fallacious assertion about the basis of American law, has she no historical knowledge whatsoever of the consequences of having government enforce religious teachings -- which are, by nature not debatable?

Even the most religious of the Founders knew that religious power leads to religious persecution, and that it would be foolish to assume that followers of one's own religion would be the ones in power if that were permitted to occur.

There are many other problems with state sponsorship of religion, but this one, obvious to practically anyone who cares to exert a modicum of mental effort, should alarm anyone tempted to cheer about this foolish and thoroughly anti-American development.

Those who would force us to follow what they imagine will be their religion do not know or care about the consequences of their actions, much less about America.

-- CAV